by Kaitlyn Keegan

My first introduction to Western dressage was a bit random. Three years ago, my barn was holding a dressage schooling show and had wanted to include more people than just those who rode English. Since my barn is primarily a Quarter horse show barn, many riders ride western. My trainer had come upon the Western Dressage Association of America’s tests, which include anything from Introduction level (walk/trot) to Basic level (walk/trot/canter) and more.

I gave it a shot and now I love it and compete in the discipline along with traditional dressage.

Preparing for a Western dressage test though takes time and lots of hard work. It is certainly more than a typical flat class at a show.

My first step when preparing to perform a test is to research which test I will be doing. All of those are available on WDAA’s website. Printing out a couple I think I would do well with my horse, my next step is to talk them over with my trainer and decide on which ones will play to my horse and my strengths.

After choosing a test, I like to break it down. Like with traditional dressage, Western dressage has a number of elements you must perform. Straight lines down the middle of the arena, square halts, round circles and clean rein backs are important pieces of the western dressage puzzle.

Western dressage is open to all breeds of horses. Therefore in training you have to focus on how your horse moves. A draft horse will perform the test slightly differently than a Quarter horse or a Thoroughbred. They all have different types of movements. A Western dressage judge is typically looking for a comfortable horse with nice cadence and impulsion.

After working on the individual pieces, I will begin to combine the pieces into strings of movements that the test calls for. Those might include movements such as a tricky trot circle where you have to halt or break to a walk in the last quarter.

Then I begin practicing my test, but not too much. I don’t want my horse to anticipate the movements because then he might try and rush or expect a movement when it isn’t time.

Now one of the great things about Western dressage is that you are allowed a caller during your test. This means that someone can be ringside calling out your movements for you so you don’t forget your test. However that can also be a crutch.

For instance, last year I was at a dressage show when it was pouring rain. After getting drenched, I made it into the indoor ring where I was to perform the test. The rain was pounding so hard on the metal roof that I couldn’t hear my caller. Luckily I knew my test enough to get through it, but it definitely taught me a lesson about not relying on my caller. You never know what’s going to happen to them.

Western dressage is something that is open to riders of all abilities. Students that have just begun riding and know basic walk and trot can do it and succeed. There are also more advanced pieces for riders that are ready for them such as half passes, extensions, collections and other lateral movements.

So go online, find a test, mount up and give it a shot!